Translink Bus and Train Week runs from 5th – 11th June 2017. It offers many discounted fares, one, in particular, being a £3 day ticket on Belfast’s Metro buses. We have no affiliation with Translink or any other transport company and are not making any money from this venture. As keen users of the Metro, we thought it might be interesting to see how many World War Two sites we could get around in a day.
We will keep this post updated throughout Belfast Bus and Train Week. If you know of somewhere worth visiting, let us know.
City Hall, Belfast
Our tour begins at Belfast City Hall. Built in 1906, the Portland stone building has stood through turbulent times. One of the worst came in April 1941. The German Luftwaffe bombed Belfast and the building suffered damage to its banqueting hall and roof. Brighter days would follow in 1945. Belfast City Hall greeted dignitaries such as Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Another esteemed guest was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, General Dwight D Eisenhower. Many artifacts now stand both inside and outside the building as permanent reminders of World War Two and its influence on the city of Belfast.
Translink Metro 1A and 1C buses for the next part of the tour leave from Upper Queen Street, a short walk from City Hall.
The Waterworks are in an area of North Belfast almost decimated by the Belfast Blitz in April 1941. To begin with, opinion was that the Nazis mistook the waterworks for the docks but maps and documents found after the war proved otherwise. The “Wasserwerke” were a clear Nazi target. By destroying the plant, the German Luftwaffe left Belfast short on vital water supplies and pressure. This was noticeable after the fire blitz when much of the city burned. To get to the Waterworks, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Richmond Lane.
The Limestone Road ran through Belfast’s industrial heartland. It was a transport route from the limestone quarries of Cave Hill down towards the docks. Eliminating industrial plants and main thoroughfares would have been a prime target of the Luftwaffe in 1941. German bombs destroyed many buildings including Newington Presbyterian Church. The new building opened in 1952. Streets in the Limestone Road and Duncairn Gardens area disappeared or were reduced to rubble leaving many people homeless. To get to the Limestone Road, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Richmond Lane.
My older sister was in a cot upstairs when an incendiary bomb went through the house and missed her cot by about a foot. My mother cut out the lino with the burnt hole and I remember it being in our Hill Street home for years.
Carolyn Mulholland – Artist whose family lived on Belfast’s Limestone Road.
Belfast Zoo on the slopes of Cave Hill is the scene of one of the Belfast Blitz’s most endearing tales. Many now know the story of Shiela the Elephant and the zookeeper who kept her safe from Nazi bombs. The movie ‘Zoo’ retells the tale from 1941. Denise Austin snuck the young elephant from her cage each night. After closing the zoo, Denise and Shiela walked to the Whitewell Road, away from the bombing. Belfast Zoo remains one of the city’s prime visitor attractions. To get to Belfast Zoo, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Bellevue.
Cave Hill stands north of the Antrim Road in Belfast. Its familiar silhouette, known as Napoleon’s Nose is visible from much of the city. There are several walking routes around the hill and the view from McArt’s fort at the top is one of the best in Belfast. In April 1941, a steady stream of people fled the north of the city taking refuge in the caves and hills as Luftwaffe bombs rained down. This practice was known as ‘sheughing’. Sheugh comes from the word for a furrow or ditch.
When it comes to World War Two, most remember Cave Hill as the scene of an American B17 crash in 1944. That story became the movie ‘Closing The Ring’. Other noteworthy sites include the white stone used as a painted marker for planes approaching RAF Aldergrove. There was also once a Royal Navy radio station operating in nearby Belfast Castle. Climbing Cave Hill is quite a strenuous physical activity. To get to Belfast Zoo, take the 1C Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Bellevue.
Translink Tour Part 2
The second part of our Belfast Blitz tour on the Translink Metro starts again at Upper Queen Street. This stop is a few minutes walk from Belfast City Hall.
York Street in north Belfast ran along the edge of one of the hardest hit areas in the Belfast Blitz. Several prime targets stood on the industrial city thoroughfare. The York Street Flax Spinning Co worked with linen used for parachutes, aircraft covers and glider frames. The York Street Mill was at the time one of the largest mills in the world. The latter of these buildings was almost destroyed by Nazi bombs in April 1941. The side wall of the mill collapsed onto the adjacent Sussex Street and Vere Street killing many people sheltering in their homes. To get to York Street, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Donegall Street.
I hollered to the boys to run. Fear lends you wings.
Constable Donald Fleck, formerly of York Street Police Station – Interviewed by BBC in April 2001.
In 2013, Jonny McKerr (JMK) completed a fantastic mural to remember the Belfast Blitz in Hogarth Street. A memorial plaque to the victims from the Tiger’s Bay area was added soon after. Forty-five people were killed in Hogarth Street alone on 15th-16th April 1941. Most were sheltering in their own homes. Included in this number are eight members of the Gordon family and eight members of the Wilson family. To get to Hogarth Street, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Cliftonville Road.
One of the Luftwaffe’s main targets in the north of the city was Victoria Barracks. A large complex, it took several hits in Easter 1941 but the nearby streets were almost destroyed. Streets like Lincoln Avenue bore the brunt of blanket bombing. People from this area who survived mainly did so by fleeing the city. All around the New Lodge area streets of terraced houses were turned to rubble. Air Raid Warden Jimmy Doherty lived on Lincoln Avenue. His wartime memories make for great reading in ‘Post 381 – Memoirs of a Belfast Air Raid Warden’. To get to Lincoln Avenue, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Lincoln Avenue.
Atlantic Avenue was the scene of one of the worst tragedies of the Belfast Blitz. The junction with Ponsonby Avenue is now a row of single storey shops but in April 1941 it was the site of an air raid shelter. The houses on Ponsonby Avenue survived with some damage but the Atlantic Avenue street shelter took a direct hit. On the way home from the Floral Hall at the foot of Cave Hill, a tram full of passengers halted on the Antrim Road. As the Luftwaffe swooped overhead, the passengers rushed for the nearest public air raid shelters. All those sheltering inside the Atlantic Avenue shelter died in the blast. To get to Atlantic Avenue, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Eia Street.
You won’t find Burke Street or the adjoining Annadale Street on a modern map or bus route. Like many other streets, they were reduced to rubble in the blitz of 1941 and never rebuilt. Burke Street ran between Annadale Street and Dawson Street. The entrance to the former was at 101 Antrim Road. The small north Belfast Street comprised of around twenty houses, all flattened by Luftwaffe bombs. In 1991, BBC Northern Ireland commissioned a programme title ‘No Survivors In Burke Street’. Mary Jane Brown, aged 91, of 18 Burke Street was the oldest victim of the Belfast Blitz. To get to the Burke Street area, take the 1A Metro by Translink along the Antrim Road and disembark at Kansas Avenue.
The Belfast Street Directory from 1943 makes for chilling reading.
|Burke Street (1943)|
|Here is Maralin Street|
We went right down into the heart of the area, Annadale Street, Burke Street, Berlin Street. In that area, we met death everywhere. Very few casualties – this was a terrible thing. That night, the dead in some areas outnumbered casualties. A terrible thing to see. We moved down into Annadale Street. There the devastation was great. One street was completely wiped out. No survivors in Burke Street.
Jimmy Doherty – ARP, North Belfast, 1941
Translink Tour Part 3
The third part of our Blitz tour takes us on the No. 10 route on the Translink Metro through West Belfast stopping at five further sites of interest. The following routes all begin in Queen Street in the City Centre.
Falls Road Baths
The Falls Road Public Baths took on a grisly role in April 1941. With inadequate mortuary facilities in Belfast for the hundreds of casualties, the baths became a temporary morgue. Volunteers drained the pool and bodies lay out for identification. Men, women, and children alike lay dead in the West Belfast baths and at St George’s Market in the city centre. Many of the dead were never identified and were buried in mass graves in the city’s main cemeteries. They had their personal effects checked to best determine religion before burial. To get to the Falls Road Leisure Centre, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at Clonard.
As Nazi bombs rained down on North Belfast, people fled to the hills and sought shelter. During the fire raid, over 300 came to Clonard Monastery on the Falls Road. The crypt beneath the sanctuary and the cellar under the sacristy were open as public air raid shelters. Many of the hundreds were Protestants from the Shankill area but all sectarianism was laid aside in the face of adversity. Women and children sheltered together offering up hymns and prayers. Father Tom Murphy strapped on a tin helmet offering absolution to all present as a bomb blew open the street level doors. To get to Clonard Monastery, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at Clonard.
Belfast City Cemetery
Although almost 1,000 people in Belfast died during the Belfast Blitz, the city has no permanent reminder. Those who want to pay their respects may do so at the non-denominational City Cemetery on Falls Road. In May 2013, Belfast City Council completed a £30,000 refurbishment of the blitz memorial at Belfast City Cemetery. The granite monument marks the burial site of 154 unidentified victims of the 1941 attack. On the anniversary each year, wreaths are laid by the memorial stone. Scattered around the cemetery are many other known victims of the raid. To get to Belfast City Cemetery, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at City Cemetery.
The memorial stone marks the graves of those who remained unidentified as a result of the blitz attacks. It is also a focus for each of us to remember and to reflect on how tenacity and endurance help us overcome dreadful events to build a better future.
Councillor Brian Kingston, High Sheriff of Belfast – 15th April 2013.
2012 saw the restoration of the Belfast Blitz memorial at Milltown Cemetery by NI War Memorial. Here, thirty unidentified victims of the 1941 Luftwaffe raids are laid to rest. Like Belfast City Cemetery, wreaths are laid here on the anniversary of the attacks. It is thought the victims buried at Milltown were of the Roman Catholic faith. As bodies lay out for identification they were checked for medals, rosaries or other religious items. The Luftwaffe did not discriminate between Northern Ireland’s religious divides as bombs fell on Belfast. To get to Milltown Cemetery, take the 10A Metro by Translink along the Falls Road and disembark at Milltown Cemetery.
To be continued…
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